The Sealey Challenge: Lineage of Rain

a white hand holds Janel Pineda's LINEAGE OF RAIN with a warm, lush painting of a person holding tropical fruit with a parrot in the corner. The painting is by Kiara Aileen Machado. The background image includes willow leaves to the right and a profusion of little gold and black and green woodland sunflowers.
Lineage of Rain

There are times—like, a LOT of times—when I think about my MA advisor. I hear her voice; I see her banging a book on the table or emphasis, or waving it in the air, or demonstrating how one properly annotated one’s texts. (By which I mean: every single inch of potential white space is covered in one’s handwriting, which often loops out across the typeset word, because your ideas need space.) Today, as I read Janel Pineda’s Lineage of Rain, one of Haymarket Press’s wonderful poetry publications, I thought of Professor Meléndez again, as she waved a book in the air: ¡es la colonialidad del poder! Because, boy howdy, does coloniality of power come through in Pineda’s poetry.

Throughout Lineage of Rain, Pineda lays forth the catastrophic violence of coloniality and empire. Language is a focal point: in “How English Came to Grandma,” Pineda explores the ways in which music brought English to her grandmother, and “Like a work of brujería, English / enamored her / into thinking the US perfect.” Yet even here, in this poem about all the ways in which English was a magical tongue to Grandma (who struggles with it), Pineda points to its violent legacy: “Inglés la conquistó a pura paja / stuck its tongue down her throat / then bewitched her feet to follow it.”

Need I even point out the power of that Spanish, there in a poem about the violent siren song of English? Pineda makes liberal use of Spanish and Spanglish throughout Lineage of Rain. Yesterday I told you that I had no clue of the wealth of cultural information tucked away in Washes, Prays, and that I found it marvelous anyway. Today I’ll tell you something a wee bit different: I understand the Spanish, here in Lineage of Rain, but I don’t think you need to know the words to feel their power. Pineda refuses to stick with the colonizers’ tongue alone, Spanish claiming its place throughout her words, and it is its own powerful rebuke to the coloniality of power.

But Lineage of Rain isn’t just about the ways in which language—English here, Spanish in El Salvador and at home—can mark and change us. Violence is a constant presence, from an imagined world where “The war never happened” (“In Another Life,” the poem which begins this collection) to “When the Death Squads Come” to “Fellowship Application.” The violence of a country left behind tangles with the imperial violence of the U.S., English a constant, vicious presence.

In the midst of the thorns and the daggers of colonialist and imperial violence, Pineda writes of home and of family, love and warmth enveloping her words. “To the Eldest Daughter” is almost a hymn, a song of sacrifice and also of love. “Before the Interview” and “When the Call Finally Comes” both read as an extended, all-enveloping family hug: the hug to which you know you can return, where you’ll be safe and warm and celebrated, because they’re your people. In a way, “All This To Show You,” which is once again about English, is a continuation of this embrace, albeit one with spikes: “finding ways / to forgive / this tongue / its treachery / this language / once monstrous / made wholly / my own.”

Lineage of Rain runs much deeper than its forty pages of poetry. Pineda explores coloniality and power and empire, refusing to be cowed in their face, Spanish running through her English words, a language she’s made her own. It is powerful and thoughtful and often sad, a short little book of poetry that deserves to be read and read again.

Curious about coloniality of power? It was originally Aníbal Quijano’s theory, though he’s not the only one to bring it fully into the world. These are a few resources for anyone who’s interested.

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